Study tracks benefits of membership at medical fitness facilities

Nandita Selvanathan manages two heart conditions — both of which have caused her chest pains and repeated hospital visits.

“What was bothering me in my daily life was my frequent hospitalization. I went to the hospital quite a few times. That’s never a pleasant experience,” she says. “With my chest pains, I had drained energy, both mentally and physically.”

Selvanathan, 63, has two structural heart concerns — shrinkage of a heart valve and a dilated aorta. She has also experienced an arrhythmia and heart palpitations (rapid heart rhythms or skips) and notes that having high blood pressure “doesn’t help.”

At the suggestion of a friend, Selvanathan went to the Wellness Institute in 2015 to participate in the cardiac rehabilitation program. The education and supervised exercise regimen is designed for people with cardiovascular disease who are recovering from a heart attack, stents, peripheral artery disease, heart failure or irregular heart rhythms.

“My friend’s husband had gone to the cardiac rehab program and because I had heart issues for many years, my friend suggested I try it,” she says. “So, I went to my doctor and he said it would be a good idea.”

A new study conducted in Winnipeg found that having a membership at a medical fitness facility, such as the Wellness Institute or the Reh-Fit Centre, could lower your risk of dying by 60 per cent. The 10-year retrospective study also found members have a 13 per cent lower risk of being hospitalized.

Dr. Alan Katz, professor of family medicine and community health sciences, inside the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

“If you have a heart attack, there’s a six-week program that’s specific for people post-heart attack at either (the Wellness Institute or Reh-Fit Centre),” says Dr. Alan Katz, professor of family medicine and community health sciences, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) and one of the study’s researchers. “But we need to be more proactive in supporting prevention and keeping people healthy.”

The study was conducted by researchers from the Chronic Disease Innovation Centre at Seven Oaks General Hospital and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Manitoba in collaboration with the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

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When it comes to health intervention, Katz says physical activity is an ideal way to improve outcomes and avoid hospitalization.

“One of the most important things we can do with primary prevention is promote exercise. We know that when physicians and primary care providers actually prescribe exercise to a patient, that person is more likely to do that,” he says. “Unfortunately, we spend so much money on treating disease, that our health-care system doesn’t have enough resources to keep people healthy rather than wait until they’re sick and then spend more money.”

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is the first to examine the long-term health outcomes of those who attend a medical fitness facility versus those who don’t. It monitored 19,000 new adult members at both the Wellness Institute and the Reh-Fit Centre over a 10-year period. Their average age was 47.

“We know that the benefits of exercise often take time to show, that’s why we needed to do it (over 10 years),” Katz says. “We knew the longer we could include, the more the benefits would accrue.”


Sabrina Carnevale

Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.

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